Projets de recherche en cours :
Projet ARC avancé 2016-2021
Why Lefort Matters
A Conceptual Genealogy of Contemporary Normative Cleavages
Claude Lefort (1924-2010) may be seen today as one of the leading political theorists of the late twentieth century. Yet the secondary literature on his output remains peculiarly sparse, especially outside the French-speaking world. Except a few specialist circles that recognise the ‘matricial’ place of his work, Lefort’s threefold contribution to the history of contemporary ideas, democratic theory, and understanding of current political issues remains undervalued or even unknown. Our research project sets out to bridge this gap using an approach that marries the history of ideas with normative theory. The aim is neither to write Lefort’s intellectual biography nor to offer an analysis of his work itself, but rather to treat Lefort’s writings as a gateway to four goals.
Offering an account of the complexities of recent French intellectual history
There are two aspects to this. Firstly, the conceptual and historical advances of Lefort’s work have inspired a strain of thought driven by demands for a so-called ‘integral’ or ‘radical’ democracy, which differ substantially from liberal or conservative critiques of socialism. Lefort’s own interpretation of several nineteenth-century authors, secondly, opens up new understandings of the relationship between French political thought and the French Revolution.
Outlining a form of republicanism concerned with shaping social issues
In refusing to see the ties between individual and social context as a dichotomy, and remaining faithful to the Machiavellian idea that social conflict holds positive political value, Lefort’s work paves the way towards a type of republicanism that does not circumscribe the political domain to the boundaries of the nation-state, and gives social issues their due importance.
Rethinking the relationship between human rights and politics in today’s world
This facet of our research sets out to put the potential of Lefort’s thought to the test: can it indeed furnish a conceptualisation of democracy and rights clearly distinct from two ideas at opposite extremes? These are, at one end of the spectrum, the utopia of a ‘self-creating’ people with its own constitutive power; and at the other a market liberalism that destroys the connection between rights and political autonomy.
Assessing the relevance of the totalitarian concept to current debates
Though public debate still periodically calls the idea of totalitarianism into service as a weapon of rhetoric – either to proclaim the irreversible gains of liberalism or to condemn the rise of religious terrorism – political theory has largely lost interest in the concept. How, we ask, can Lefort’s 1970 analyses of Nazi and then Soviet totalitarianism help us to understand current issues?
Principaux projets de recherche terminés :
Les Anti-Lumières: la pensée contre-révolutionnaire du XIXe siècle et sa descendance contemporaine. Les différents types de critiques des droits de l'homme, du libéralisme et de la démocratie: conservatisme, traditionalisme radical, romantisme politique.
Les liens de la politique et de la religion: conceptions religieuses du politique et théorisations politiques du religieux. Théologie politique et laïcité.
European Starting Grant (European Research Council) 2010-2015
RESIT. Human rights versus democracy? Towards a conceptual genealogy of skepticism about human rights discourse in contemporary political thought.
The aim of this research project is to outline a conceptual genealogy and a critical typology of the theoretical arguments that have been advanced, in the name of democracy, against the dominant human rights discourse of contemporary societies. In light of the prolific literature on human rights in general, we might expect the counter arguments made since the Declarations of 1776 and 1789 to have been widely explored as an area of interest. This is not, however, the case. Whereas the reactionary critique of human rights dates far back and is well known, its modern equivalent – which often draws in important ways from the liberal tradition – is far less familiar terrain to political theorists. However, the central hypothesis running through this project is that challenges to human rights discourse must not be confused with antiliberal or antidemocratic stances. The main types of critique will be outlined, with an emphasis on their complexity and diverse nature, thus resisting the temptation to generalise them as part of a tradition of opposition to legal-political modernity. This typology will then be supplemented with historical contextualisation. Contemporary examples of the democratic critique of the primacy of human rights will be compared with historical examples of thinkers who criticised human rights as such, notably Bentham, Burke, Marx, De Maistre, Comte and Schmitt. The key research question is whether a common critical aim can be articulated from different intellectual starting points that are otherwise far apart; and whether or not the structure of the arguments that run through these approaches significantly changes the type of critique advanced.